Help me choose my new website design!

I’ve been working with my lovely friend Stephanie from Toastie Studio to refresh the design of my website. I want to make the site look cleaner and simpler while still being bright and fun.

Stephanie has mocked up a couple of designs, and I would love to know what you think. The stock images will be different — I just haven’t had a chance to look for better ones yet. Also, the Toastie Studio watermark will not be on the final site.

I’d love to know which design grabs you more. Which header do you like best: the one with a simple pink-and-blue bar above a big image, or the one with the image integrated into the header? Do you prefer the three featured books in a row or the pyramid with more text?

We can move things around and incorporate different features in the final design. For example, if header 1 is really popular but the book feature area of design 2 is also popular, we can put them together.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Design 1

Web design 1

Design 2

Web design 2

Setting goals for 2013

Happy 2013 How was everyone’s New Year’s Eve? Did you spend it doing something exciting? I was in Cardiff, Wales, visiting friends but sadly Santa brought me a nasty cold for Christmas, so I spent NYE in our friends’ guest bed curled around my pillow as my body produced things I hope I never see again.

I don’t know about you, but I always find it a bit depressing when the holidays end. Colds don’t help.

One thing I love about this time of year, though, is thinking about the exciting things to come and writing down my goals for the year. “Resolution” sounds a bit too…um, resolved for me. The fact is, I do much better when I think of these as goals.

I managed to accomplish many of 2012’s writing goals:

  • I finished revising (and sold! Bonus!) Knowing the Score.
  • I judged the Golden Heart contest and entered a few others (and got an agent through one!).
  • I went to RWA Nationals and pitched to agents and editors – which led to a publication deal!
  • I built myself a website (you’re looking at it).
  • I continued growing my blog and social media conversations (thank you all for getting involved!).
  • I kept track of the books I read on Goodreads until summer, but then I got too busy and stopped. Whoops.

This year I’m going to keep my goals simple because I have two life-changing events coming up – having a baby and getting published – and I want to nurture both of these areas of my life without losing my mind in the process.

So here are my goals for 2013:

  • Have a baby and give her all the love and cuddles she can handle. Do it without turning into a crazy frantic woman.
  • Go through the publishing process with Carina Press for Knowing the Score and come up with a good marketing plan for it – again, minus the crazy frantic woman.
  • Write two more novels.

What are your goals or resolutions for 2013? How did you do with last year’s resolutions?

I hope you have all the success in the world in 2013!

The best thing to take away from a writing conference

Hands up—how many of you went to RWA’s National Conference in Anaheim last week?

*raises hand*

I heard there were about 1,700 romance writers gathered there, and I had a brilliant time meeting as many of them as I possibly could. What an incredible atmosphere!

It was only the second writing conference I’ve been to (the first being Nationals last year in New York), and this year I felt much better prepared and more confident. After four days of workshops, pitch sessions with agents and editors, and chatting with new friends, these are the biggest things I took away from the conference.

1. Craploads of free books!

Free romance novels from RWA NationalsSeriously, if ‘crapload’ were a unit of measurement, I’m sure I’d have at least two or three craploads in books. And guess what—I’m going to be giving lots of them away to my blog subscribers and Facebook fans. (Hint hint)

Last year I discovered several new-to-me authors, thanks to the free books given away at Nationals—including the very talented Jane Graves who was a double RITA finalist this year.

As wonderful as these books, they’re not the most important thing I took home from the conference. So what else did I get?

Continue reading “The best thing to take away from a writing conference”

Questions to ask yourself before entering a romance writing contest

The first year I started writing romance, I entered shed-loads of writing contests. The next year, I was more selective and had learned that not all writing contests are equal.

This weekend I spent some time looking through dozens of romance writing contests that have their deadlines over the next few months, and I found myself judging the contests themselves based on several criteria.

For those of you thinking about entering romance writing contests, my best advice would be this: First decide what you want out of the contest.

That will help you select the best contests for you.

Winner's Circle
The place to be

Here are some of the criteria I use to decide which contests to enter. I’ll also mention a couple of contests that I think are good examples of meeting these criteria, but please note that that doesn’t mean that I have personal experience of or endorse those particular contests. Also, some of these contest deadlines have passed for 2012, but you may want to know about them for the future.

You can find a really helpful list of upcoming romance writing contests on Stephie Smith’s website.

Continue reading “Questions to ask yourself before entering a romance writing contest”

Why does an agent have to love your novel before they can sell it?

(Warning: long post ahoy! Get yourself some chamomile and find a comfy chair. I hope you’ll stick with me till the end, even if it’s because you think I’m full of dookie.)

Broken heartThere are all kinds of rejections in the writing world, but for writers the most frustrating may be: “I just didn’t love it enough.”

Especially when it’s followed by the phrase: “This is a subjective business, and I’m sure someone else will love it.”

There are a few reasons these are frustrating things to hear. First, publishing isn’t really a subjective business. Sure, groundbreaking books can be discovered by an agent or editor’s instinct, or a gut feeling. But a wealth of hard data available in the publishing industry helps professionals assess a book’s chances of being successful.

Second, and much more importantly, “I just didn’t love it” is frustrating because I don’t know how to fix that. Writers improve their stories by receiving feedback from readers—whether those readers are also editors, agents, writers, or someone who just loves to read. If someone can’t tell me why they didn’t love my story, then I don’t know what to change or how to improve it.

But writers have to be fair to agents. I’ve seen many comments online where writers complain that agents won’t give them feedback. Personally, as frustrating as I know those rejections are, I can’t for the life of me figure out why these writers would think an agent owes it to them—and to the thousand other people they reject in a month—to give personal feedback.

Every business has its frustrations, and in the writing business one of the biggies is unexplained rejection.

I’ve also seen several posts lately where agents talk about only taking on projects they love, and writers challenge them. The commenters’ position seems to be: “Agents are basically salespeople, and good salespeople should be able to sell anything, no matter how they feel about it.”

In any business where people from different disciplines have to work together to bring a product to market, it’s vital that everyone takes time to think about difficult issues from other perspectives. I’m not an agent; I don’t have an agent; and I’ve never talked to an agent about this subject. Excuse me if I’m being naïve, but I’d like to defend agents here.

So why does an agent have to love your novel before they can sell it?

1. Because they’re more likely to be successful if they’re selling something they love.

Like/ Dislike stampsBottom line: agents want projects they can sell. This is their career, and that’s what puts food on the table.

A good agent will work her or his ass off to sell their clients’ books. That includes putting in effort to make it more likely to sell; for example, by giving editorial advice to an author.

Any salesperson who says feeling passionate about a product makes no difference is full of it. Writers, have you ever tried to pitch a novel you felt *meh* about? Have you tried to fake enthusiasm for one of your projects? How did it go?

2. Because why shouldn’t they only choose projects they love, if they have the choice?

Let me shift the focus away from agents and onto myself for a second. For five years now, I’ve worked in digital marketing for non-profits. The nitty-gritty of my job can sometimes amount to a big ball of annoyance, as anyone who spends all day working with websites, social media and large organizations can understand.

But at the end of my day, I absolutely love what I do, not because I’m passionate about the internet (though I usually am), but because I’m passionate about the charities I work for.

At this point in my career, I’m lucky that I can choose who I ply my trade for. Could I conceivably do the same thing for a corporation? Sure. Why not? But if I have the choice of getting paid to do something I’m passionate about versus doing something just for the money, passion wins.

If an agent is successful enough that they can choose the projects they want to represent, why the hell shouldn’t they?

3. Because “salesperson” is only one of the hats they wear.

Editor, career advisor, therapist, negotiator…and if they own their own agency, then all of the skills that come with being a small business owner and manager, too.

A good agent will spend a lot of time dealing with each book, and if they’re not passionate about it in the beginning, then how likely will it be that they grow to loathe it by the time they finish dealing with it?

4. Because books are not refrigerators.

Agent Jenny Bent has a great post on her blog where she has a conversation with author Mike Wells about what it means to love a book you’re selling, and why it’s important. Here’s Mike Wells’ original post: What literary agents could learn from the Girl Scouts.

In her post, Jenny says:

I’m not selling a refrigerator, after all. If I’m selling refrigerators, I don’t have to love them: they’re pretty impersonal—I can judge them on objective criteria. And pretty much everyone needs to buy a refrigerator at some point. Everyone likes them. And with girl scout cookies, you don’t have to like them to know there’s a huge market. But the only way I can even guess if other people will like a novel is if I like it too. It’s completely subjective. Unless, of course, there has been market research in the shape of self-publishing.

There are lots of interesting things to pull out here, but for me the difference between a refrigerator and a novel isn’t one of objectivity vs. subjectivity. It’s one of necessity vs luxury.

It would be difficult for most of us to live without a refrigerator anymore. Refrigerator design might change a bit, but if your fridge dies then you’re going to bite the bullet and do your best to buy a new one.

Paper heart

Let’s face it: unless you stick it under a broken table leg, a novel is not a practical item. Passionate readers consider them a necessity, but our food won’t spoil without them. What agents are selling to publishers is a luxury item.

Jenny mentions having to guess what other people want to read. In other words, readers are not just the end of the publishing process—they’re the beginning. Their desires are what agents and editors are trying to fulfill (since that’s how the industry makes money), and if an agent doesn’t love a story how can they convince an editor that enough readers will want to buy it?

5. Because it’s a myth that a good salesperson can sell anything.

Like I said earlier, this seems to be the basis for many writers’ frustrations. “I don’t care if you love my work, I just want you to sell it.”

Sure, lots of salespeople have to sell things they’re not passionate about and end up having to fake enthusiasm over and over.

But I think there’s a pervasive myth that a good salesperson could “sell ice to the Eskimos” and other crappy clichés.

Anyone who’s seen The Apprentice will know that people who say things like “Everything I touch turns to sold” end up looking like twits.

So what can writers do about it?

Keep your passion.

Simple, right?

I don’t know about you, but by the time I query an agent, I’ve probably read my novel a dozen times from start to finish. It can be tough to keep the love alive. So do whatever you have to do to reignite your love for your story—whether that’s by starting a different book, or taking a break, or sending it off to a trusted reader for feedback.

Above all else, remember that you are the first person who has to sell the book. And if you don’t love it, why should an agent?

What do you think? If you’re a writer, does this kind of rejection frustrate you? How do you deal with it? How do you keep your own passion for your work alive, and show your passion when you’re trying to sell your work to agents and editors?